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Lithium effects on Hippocampus volumes in patients with bipolar disorder

Lookup NU author(s): Dr David Cousins


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© 2021. Background: Lithium is one of the most effective medications for bipolar disorder episode prevention, but its mechanism of action is still largely unknown. The hippocampus is a subcortical cerebral structure involved in the formation of emotional responses, cognition and various primitive functions, altered during affective episodes. Deviations in the anatomy or physiology of the hippocampus would partially explain the symptomatology of bipolar subjects, and restoration may reflect treatment response. Methods: In this mini review, we summarize the studies which have investigated the effect of lithium intake on the volume of hippocampus, measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We performed a bibliographic search on PubMed, using the terms terms “hippocampus”, “lithium”, “bipolar disorder”, “volume” and “MRI”. Only original studies were considered. Results: Thirteen studies met the inclusion criteria. Nine studies demonstrated increased total hippocampal volume or hippocampal subfield volumes in BD patients on lithium treatment (Li BD) compared to those not taking lithium (non-Li BD), while four failed to show significant differences between groups. When healthy controls were compared to either the Li subjects or the non-Li ones, the findings were more heterogeneous. Limitations: Heterogeneity in the methodology and definition of groups limits the comparison of study results. Conclusions: Lithium may be associated with increased hippocampal volume in BD, potentially due to its putative neurotrophic action, but further research is needed better define the morphological alterations of hippocampus in BD and the longitudinal effects of lithium in the short and long-term.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lucini-Paioni S, Squarcina L, Cousins DA, Brambilla P

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Affective Disorders

Year: 2021

Volume: 294

Pages: 521-526

Print publication date: 01/11/2021

Online publication date: 18/07/2021

Acceptance date: 11/07/2021

ISSN (print): 0165-0327

ISSN (electronic): 1573-2517

Publisher: Elsevier B.V.


DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2021.07.046